Product Life Cycle Management (PLM) in ProcessPart 3: Process PLM Requirements

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In Part One of this series, we discussed Product Life Cycle Management as a proven concept in the discrete industries and as a growing concept in process. In Part Two we examined the motivations for a process company to undertake a PLM project. In this part, we explore the requirements for PLM in the process enterprises.

In Part Two of this series, we stated that a comprehensive approach was required in order to meet the time-to-market requirement. Key to that comprehensive approach is a central repository that completely defines the information needed for the life cycle of the product. This repository must store the information to support the entire cycle, from idea, through R&D, through commercialization and into the many revisions and eventual retirement of the product.

Some of the data stored in the repository is common with the needs of discrete PLM systems but much is unique to the process industry. Common data includes project information such as workflow, basic project management information, approval information, and high-level product concepts. The data unique to the process industry includes product information such as formula (ingredients only) and recipe (formula plus processing procedures), packaging specifications, processing steps, test procedures, and plant independent production requirements.

A comprehensive approach also means that many organizations and individuals must collaborate in the process. Because this collaboration spans different levels of the organizations, the solution requires seamless integration between the project information and the product information in order to allow for a coordinated, collaborative business process. The organizations and individuals are both internal (marketing, legal, advertising R&D, production, etc.) and external (testing labs, outsourced production, ad agencies, etc.).

Specific Process PLM Requirements include:

  • Web-Based Deployment

  • Process Specific Tools

  • Global Standards

  • Centralized, Integrated Project and Product Information

  • Product Portfolio Management

Web-Based Deployment

In today's environment, these internal and external entities are often combined into ever changing virtual teams to meet the requirements of a specific product or project. Today, this is very true in discrete manufacturing and a growing trend in process. . Therefore, the PLM system must accommodate rapid, global deployment of the system. This need drives a requirement for web-based deployment in order to minimize both the start-up and the long-term cost of ownership of the system.

Process Specific Tools

The productivity of the various collaborators must be addressed with a variety of tools. R&D personnel require process specific tools to build and search material specifications to enable them to locate candidates that are similar to existing products or ingredients. A variety of formula analysis and balancing tools will speed the calculation intensive process of formula development, leading to both greater productivity and the ability to evaluate more alternatives. Some of these tools are specific to an industry, like nutritional analysis and label development in the food industry.

To speed the product commercialization phase, the data repository must provide support for production scale up and tools to enable the knowledge transfer to production facilities. Since these facilities are increasingly outsourced locations, a plant independent and ideally standards based (SP88) approach must be supported. To select production facilities that allow for the maximization of profit across the extended enterprise (including outsourced location) tools must be available to intelligently match production requirements with the available capacity.

Global Standards

To continually drive out cost, the PLM system should contribute to the global standardization of recipes to reduce redundancy and global standardization of ingredients to increase the impact of the buying power of the enterprise and drive down the investment in redundant inventory.

Centralized, Integrated Project and Product Information

Since the development of a new product or the revision of an existing product is conducted as a project, the PLM system must provide project management capabilities designed for the needs of PLM, for example automating the stage-gate processes common in product development processes. Much of the benefits of a PLM system come from synchronizing the business process that companies use across departments and enterprises. This synchronization needs to include both project and product information, for example the automated routing of new recipes for approval across multiple departments. This drives the need for centralized, integrated project and product information.

Product Portfolio Management

Another key area of integration is portfolio management. The management of the product portfolio represents an additional level of requirements. The above requirements deal with individual projects or products. Portfolio management manages the conflicting objectives of many projects and products. Portfolio management must allow a managerial view of all products and projects in order to achieve balance with the company's strategic objectives. For a valuable comparison of often disparate project to be made, it is very important that the data used for decision making is strongly tied to the reality of the project, allowing key decision makers to drill down into the necessary details of the projects as required.


Product Life Cycle Management or PLM is a proven tool in increasing competitiveness. Process companies who consider product development a core competency should investigate PLM immediately to maintain their leadership in this area. Other companies should see PLM as a necessary requirement to maintain parity with others.

In order to achieve the benefits described in the first two parts of this series, it is important to select the correct technology partner. There are several key factors to keep in mind. First, it is important to realize that there are significant differences in the way products are defined in the process and discrete industries, and therefore significant differences in process and discrete PLM systems.

Look for vendors with significant history in the process industries. Avoid vendors whose solution is intended to serve too many industries outside of process.

Second, it is important that the system handle a broad view of the product in order to promote cross-departmental use, visibility and collaboration. Systems that are too focused on any one department may alienate potential users.

Third, it is important to recognize that applications designed around transactions and structured data are not built to handle the combination of structured and unstructured information typical in product lifecycle processes. Avoid ERP and Supply Chain vendors re-packaging existing transactional solutions.

Finally, it is important to remember that Product Lifecycle Management is by its nature a collaborative solution. Look for vendors who support current, web based technologies today to speed both internal and external collaboration efforts.

About the Author

Olin Thompson is a principal of Process ERP Partners. He has over 25 years experience as an executive in the software industry with the last 17 in process industry related ERP, SCP, and e-business related segments. Olin has been called "the Father of Process ERP." He is a frequent author and an award-winning speaker on topics of gaining value from ERP, SCP, e-commerce and the impact of technology on industry.

He can be reached at

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